Dutch authorities are checking with U.S. authorities on a potential airborne pathogen after more than 60 arrivals from South Africa were found to have tested positive for a variant of the “mercury virus,” according to the chief of Dutch anti-terrorism police.
At least two of the passengers that landed in Rotterdam from South Africa on a Dutch passenger jet were taken to a local hospital for checks after tests came back positive for ebolavirus, or MERS, according to an official. Twenty-two out of 62 people on the plane are expected to be quarantined at the airport in Rotterdam over the next five days, the Dutch Ministry of Defense said Monday, according to CBS News.
Authorities are considering other hospitals and patients in other parts of the Netherlands as a precaution, and are examining the Turkish Airways plane, according to CBS News.
All passengers in contact with the 91 people who are suspected of having the infection will be quarantined for the next five days, the Dutch Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.
One of the most common adverse reactions to the MERS disease — and the only positive case reported in the European Union — is high fever. When someone with MERS is feeling weak, it is called septic shock, and health care workers usually do not use the name MERS. It is commonly confused with another disease, but U.S. health officials say it is “not related” to SARS.
The MERS virus is endemic in humans in the Middle East. It began as a new strain of coronavirus in 2012. Around 20 percent of infections have been fatal, according to the World Health Organization.
A 2007 outbreak was first identified in Saudi Arabia, but since then it has spread across much of the Middle East. It can cause severe respiratory illnesses with high mortality rates in the 50 percent range, but fortunately this particular variant of the MERS virus seems to be relatively less deadly than some others that have been reported in humans.
“Unfortunately, this case is not very new. No one is thinking we can call it a new disease or a new strain,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Frieden said the outbreak in Malaysia also shows that the disease remains relatively easy to catch.
But health officials say there is no reason to be too concerned.
“Although MERS outbreaks are common, they do not involve very many people, and until now have been largely confined to the Middle East,” the CDC said in a statement. “Given the large number of outbreaks, most of which have occurred over the past two years, there is no need to be alarmed.”
Frieden told reporters on Tuesday that the absence of any known cases in Europe and Asia is why he’s “mostly calm.”
The disease first appeared two years ago, but that’s mainly because the disease is so rare and mysterious. Frieden likened it to “Ebola and the computer virus” because it’s “really hard to determine how this disease is spread.”
That’s not to say that authorities aren’t concerned, though.
CDC scientists are working with the International Research Institute for Infectious Diseases to unravel the mystery. To date, the CDC says it has no evidence that the virus is acquired from human-to-human exchange of air traffic or from contact with infected animals. It appears to infect camels, though. There is no evidence that the virus can be transmitted from person to person.
So far, only five people have died of MERS in the Middle East. In 2015, there were 14 deaths. As of Sunday, 711 people were known to have been infected in the region. Another 164 people in 11 countries had survived the virus, including 138 in Saudi Arabia. So far, the only U.S. cases that have been linked to the virus are two Indiana nurses who contracted the infection while caring for two infected patients. The nurse with the H1N1 strain of flu is believed to have been the first person to be diagnosed with MERS in the United States.